Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sunday Thought: a prayer for a teacher, and friend

I was going to put up another post about girls, but I found out today that my old writing teacher at UF, Smith Kirkpatrick, is - as my correspondent put it - "on his last leg." He's confined to bed, with cancer in both lungs, and being fed by tube. He's 85.

He inherited the Creative Writing Program (of which there is an absurdly short history here) from its founder, Andrew Lytle, later the longtime editor of The Sewanee Review, in which Kirk published a number of essays and stories. He wrote one novel, The Sun's Gold, published by Houghton Miflin in 1974.

One of his students, later a colleague and sometime antagonist, Harry Crews, who achieved a celebrity that Smith never sought, admitted once in conversation that "Kirk knows more about the craft of fiction than any man I ever met." And that would include an awful lot of people, for Smith's cultivation of the Florida Writer's Conference brought the best of the literary lights to town, people like James Dickey, Madison Jones, Lytle himself, John Frederick Nims, Nelson Algren, Howard Nemerov, John Knowles (A Separate Peace), Truman Capote, Reynolds Price, Donald Justice, John Ciardi, and on it goes. A couple of them, like Nims and Justice, enjoyed it so much they took teaching chairs at Florida. I don't think it was anything special about Gainesville, but rather the soft-spoken graciousness of the true Southern gentleman Kirk was, and the enthusiasm of the students who became his literary progeny.

I might give a more personal portrait after he goes, if he goes. I haven't talked to him in over 18 years. I'm just hoping he hangs on for another week so I can get up to Gainesville and thank him one more time for what he gave me. It seems important, for some reason.


Beth Impson said...

Bill, I hope you have been (or will be) able to see your former teacher. In the last couple of years, I've written to a few of mine who were retiring from my alma mater, and in every case I've received such grateful responses . . . We certainly hear enough about our failures (real and perceived) as teachers; it's always a lift to the spirit to hear something positive. And it's good for *us* to practice active gratefulness.

Professor Kirkpatrick sounds wonderful. What a privilege it would be to have just one student speak of one someday in the way you speak of him! I know that what we strive for is the "well done, good and faithful servant" of our Master -- but it's really encouraging now and then to hear it here from someone here! :)


Anonymous said...

You is completely right, Beth.

alicia said...

One of the blessings of the internet is that is has made it possible to reconnect with folks. I have managed to find and write to the Jesuit who brought me into the church (and officiated at my wedding) to tell him that I am still Catholic and still married :)

Anonymous said...

And I don't doubt that that little bit of good news is a great reward to him.